In a news report on Reuters, “Lawmakers take aim at sex offenders on Internet”, there may be some changes in US laws which will treat online sex offenders like other sex offenders:
U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday proposed requiring sex offenders to register their e-mail and instant messaging addresses with law enforcement authorities in a bid to protect children using popular social Internet sites like MySpace.
The legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives also would require the Justice Department to develop a system that would allow commercial social networking Web sites to check members’ addresses against individuals listed in the National Sex Offender Registry.
Violators who fail to comply with registering their online communication identities would face up to 10 years in prison under the bill. If the offender was on supervised release from prison, the individual’s probation would be revoked.
The measure would also make it a crime for anyone over the age of 18 to misrepresent their age for the purpose of luring a minor over the Internet for illegal sexual conduct.
This action is part of the government’s response to growing concerns about online sexual predators, especially after the recent lawsuits against MySpace to force them to protect their children who blog and play on social networks online.
Who is included and excluded from such a law? The idea behind forcing blogging network services to protect children is one thing, but which blogging networks qualify? Does Edublogs.org, a teacher/educator free blogging community? What about WordPress.com? Or Blogger or Live Journal? Do they come under the proposed law?
Will everyone who signs onto a social networking site have to be checked against the list before permitted to participate? Who will verify if the people on the list are supposed to be there, or are there by accident? If they register their emails, emails are a dime a dozen, so how will that be controlled? How would anyone know if a sexual predator has 18 email addresses but only reported 5? Will email services also have to check the list? And who uses their “real name” when getting a free email address, anyway?
The article describes those who are covered as “commercial social networking Web sites”, but the blogosphere itself is part of the social network of the web. A forum is a type of social networking site. Many bloggers have ads on their sites which make them commercial, whether they think or blog that way. Combined with a forum, a blog could be considered a commercial social networking site.
Will this filter down to individual bloggers who host their own sites? There are probably bloggers developing sites to attract children to them for interactions through blog comments or forums? Some of these might entice their readers to register in order to comment, which provides a viable email address. Predators may initiate contact with a minor through these email addresses.
What about the non-child-attracting blogger? Will we have to put up warning signs or jump through hoops to make sure that children are not participating on our blogs for fear we may break a law?
Does this mean we will have to add agreements to our blog comments which clarify whether or not the commenter is underage or not, and add more protections to our blogs? Or is this only for the “big business blogs”?
Will anyone have access to these databases or be required to check them against anyone who signs on with their blog? Will you check?
And once they are on the list, how would anyone know if they are “marked” or not? Will they have to have a badge on their email or chat that says “Child Molester” or “I’m an Online Sexual Predator”?
A problem with the whole idea is that this law would only cover registering convicted sexual predators. Many are never caught and continue to do evil freely. So how do you protect children from these folks who aren’t on the list?
And what about international sexual predators? Anyone can access anywhere from all over the world, so what keeps a child molester in England from doing dirty deeds on a site in Canada?
We Have to Protect Children Online
Protection from online predators on children begins in the home, without a doubt. At one time, children were only warned about strangers, big lions that could eat and kill them, bugs that could sting and kill them, and plants that would poison and kill them.
Today, we have to warn our kids about strangers, lions, bugs, plants, drugs, cars, neighborhoods, bad parts of town, movies, friends, websites, blogs, IM, chat, social networking services, social bookmarking services, porn, peer pressure, adults, other children… it’s an overwhelming job making the business of parenting harder than ever.
Still, any time an adult says “don’t”, what does the child do? With kids teething on computers today, many grow up delighted with the challenge of finding away around the blocks, so blocks don’t help, but they have encouraged a new generation of code breakers, hackers, and virus makers.
Do you think another law or list is going to stop online predators? Do you think your blog, forum, or favorite social networking or bookmarking site will be affected by this?
What do you think should be done to stop online predators?
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress, and is a long time support volunteer for WordPress. Lorelle travels too much and reports about life on the road in Taking Your Camera on the Road and covers family history and genealogy on Lorelle’s Family History, and writes for many blogs, ezines, and magazines.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.